Four years ago, Woolworths’ board was 50-50, but this level of equality wasn’t reflected in leadership across the rest of the organisation. The retail giant wanted to close the policy-practice gap and see forty percent of women holding store manager and area manager roles. There was complexity in how to affect this change, so, in 2017, t he organisation partnered with Grace Papers. After analysing Woolworths’ data, Grace Papers was able to reveal that the problem didn’t lie in attracting female staff but in retaining and promoting them. The solution would be found in driving inclusion. As Grace Papers CEO, Prue Gilbert said, “ We know that inclusion, not diversity per se, is among the biggest barriers to retaining and building a pipeline of talent.” Grace Papers unpacked Woolworths’ gender equality strategy and worked with the organisation to benchmark key policies including parental leave and flexible work. After introducing targeted strategies to reduce turnover and drive gender balanced promotions, female turnover at Woolworths dropped almost immediately. Through the introduction of their platform and events, Grace Papers has continued to help Woolworths build community, transform parental leave experiences, and promote female talent. In late 2018, Woolworths’ became the first Australian retailer to introduce superannuation contributions on both the paid and unpaid parental leave for up to 12 months. Grace Papers CEO, Prue Gilbert, said assisting Woolworths in its pioneering parental leave policy was one of the proudest moments of her career.
“To see Woolworths support the economic security of their female employees is such a testament to them,” she said. “Actions speak louder than words and this is an organisation that is willing to make the investment and committed to closing the gender pay gap. It’s also a policy decision that has influenced other organisations to do the same.”
With more than 54 percent of Woolworths’ 190,000-strong team being female, the superannuation policy has already made a meaningful difference to the retirement savings of thousands of women across the country.
“Almost 5000 of our team members take parental leave every year and we don’t believe they should be disadvantaged in retirement for doing so,” Woolworths Group Chief People Officer, Caryn Katsikogianis said at the time. “We know Australian women are retiring with a lot less super than men. As one of the country’s largest private employers we want to play our part in closing the gap.” During the pandemic, Grace Papers has continued to work with the organisation, in particular, assisting Woolworths’ staff in overcoming the mental and procedural stumbling blocks that can make flexible working arrangements difficult.
“One of the things we are uncovering is just how many people consider flexibility and career progression challenging,” said Gilbert. “We’re talking about how we better align flexibility themes to care for self, care for family, or community; how we better redefine flexibility to include definitions that overcome bias or stigma; as well as better education on workplace flex itself.”
Woolworth’s head of diversity and inclusion, Rachel Mead, said care has always been embedded in the retailer’s culture. That commitment to caring for others has only strengthened in recent years, particularly through its partnership with Grace Papers and in weathering the Covid-19 pandemic. Mead is particularly proud of the progress being made in the areas of LGBTQI+ inclusion, gender equality and reconciliation.
“My favourite aspect of our culture is that you can come to work, be your authentic self and that’s celebrated and encouraged,” Mead said. “I truly believe people are at their best when they can be themselves. And I am passionate about creating an environment where that is the norm.” Grace Papers is proud to have supported Woolworths to become the largest employer in Australia to be recognised by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality.